The convenience center problem gets messy

Morrison Mayor Sue Anderson is prepared to fight to keep the Morrison Convenience Center where it is, despite the railroad owning the property and telling them to get off.

The Health and Welfare Committee met Thursday evening at the Morrison Ruritan Building to hear from the residents of Morrison regarding the convenience center move.

At a recent Tri-County Railroad Authority meeting, Sanitation Department Director Josh Roberts was told that rail officials wanted the Morrison and Smartt Station practice centers to vacate their property due environmental violations and liability issues. The county is allowed to renew a lease for the Campaign and Starlight centers because they have no violations.

“The railroad basically said on these two pieces that we’re not going to renew,” commissioner Steven Helton said. “There was a meeting the railroad had where the subject of possibly having the convenience center here was brought up and in a few words the answer was no.”

County Manager Jimmy Haley said the county does not have a lease on this property and that the Morrison Ruritan Club was supposed to have a lease with Caney Fork and Western, which no longer exists, the lease is now invalid .

“The lease with the Ruritan Club was allowed to expire, for whatever reason, in 2001. So that was 21 years ago and it was never renegotiated,” Haley said. “The issue of garbage leaking into that stream over there caught the attention of TDEC when they came to certify our sites. We were given the opportunity to try and do something to fix it and we don’t own the property and we don’t have a lease so there is no way to fix it.

If the violations are not corrected, the county will have to pay fines or the site will be shut down completely. The railroad attorney considers Ruritan’s lease void, and Helton thinks a legal battle would be unwise.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to get into a legal battle with the railroad trying to salvage this when we have so many nails in our coffin when it comes to this. So that’s why why we’re trying to consider going somewhere else,” Helton said.

Anderson disagrees and says the lawyers she had to review the lease say it is valid and she wants to keep the center where it is.

“I’m here to say we’d like to keep the convenience center here. People called. My phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” Anderson said. “I spoke to Josh earlier and we talked about moving it up and he said TDEC would approve it. The Ruritan has a 99 year lease. I spoke to two lawyers and they Said it was a good lease They said it was okay and the railroad lawyer said it wasn’t I’m not a lawyer I don’t know but I ‘ve got someone else watching it The last thing we want to do to Morrison is have a trial but if that happens and we find out our lease is good that’s what we have to do and we don’t want to.

“We want your attorneys’ writing saying that,” Haley said.

“We have some issues with what she just said,” Helton said. “Obviously we have the legal fees. Who will pay for this? Will the town of Morrison pay for this or will the county pay for it? I don’t know if this committee will say: let’s continue the railway.

“The county doesn’t have a leg to stand on,” Roberts added.

Anderson is also unhappy because, according to her, the Tri-County Railroad Authority told her they would go to the site and meet her and that never happened. Instead, they met Haley.

“They said they would meet me and Joe and we would talk about it,” Anderson said. ” This does not happen. It was wrong for me to come here and talk to Mr. Haley, and I have nothing against Mr. Haley or Mr. Josh. We should have been there. Now, are they going to move the practice center? Yeah. I know it in the back of my head, but I’m going to fight it guys.

No concrete decision was taken at this meeting. Different places were discussed and the public was able to express themselves.